By Robin Bairner | French Football Editor
Sunday proved to be quite a night for Eden Hazard, who gave Lille fans an early parting gift by producing a virtuoso performance against Paris Saint-Germain in Ligue 1, going some way to securing les Dogues’ presence in the Champions League next season thanks to a magnificent 2-1 win.
When Javier Pastore reacted well to put Carlo Ancelotti’s side into the lead early in the second half, the defending champions were suddenly on course to lose a third home game in a league season for the first time in Rudi Garcia’s four-season reign, all but ending their hopes of a top-two finish.
Lille, however, had been the better team to that point, and Hazard had been their outstanding talent.
Scouts flocked to watch the match, eager, no doubt, to see the young Belgian test himself against France’s most high-profile club. Patrick Vieira represented Manchester City, while Martin Ferguson was in the stands to keep tabs on him from neighbours United. Both clubs have expressed interest in the 21-year-old in the past; both will now be salivating over the prospect of his signing after he excelled against PSG.
It was clear from the opening moments that Hazard was in the mood to impress. Twice in the first five minutes he drew saves from Salvatore Sirigu with dangerous free kicks, but it was his skimming, low drive that hit the post and span along the goal-line before going out of play that most caught the eye.
EDEN HAZARD | LILLE
LILLE 2-1 PSG
For a period in the second half he faded, but the introduction of Nolan Roux, a player signed in January who has flourished under Garcia and represents the future of the club, awoke Hazard once more.
Within a couple of minutes, the Belgian had drawn the match level. Roux pounced on a dreadful Mamadou Sakho error before being fouled by the out-of-form centre-back in the box. Having said at the end of last season that he found Roux - then of Brest - his most difficult opponent, the 22-year-old only came head-to-head with the attacker for a matter of seconds before he was dismissed for his indiscretion.
Composed despite the drama, Hazard scored from the resulting penalty.
Then came the climax; the moment that is likely to be remembered as Hazard’s last great hurrah in a Lille shirt. Gathering a pass on the edge of the box, he produced an outrageous ‘coup de foulard’ (hitting the ball one leg behind the other), sending a cross to the back post, where Tulio de Melo knocked the ball back across goal to be headed in by Roux.
|"PSG is interesting, but my objective is to go to Premier League, because I have had my turn in France"
- Hazard on his future
It was a sensational piece of flamboyance that sums up the confidence the Ligue 1 Player of the Year nominee presently has, and it was the type of moment that has fans talking for weeks. The gall to try such a skill at such a vital moment highlights the self-assurance that will make Hazard a star in the Premier League, for he announced that will be his destination come the summer.
“PSG is interesting, but my objective is to go to Premier League, because I have had my turn in France,” he told Canal Plus. “In the future, why not? But now, I want to finish the season with Lille and afterwards go to England.”
With Les Dogues willing to let their star man finally fly the nest, it’s now a case of waiting for suitors to show their hands.
Leading Lille back into the fringes of the title hunt, seven points back of Montpellier with four games left, one of which is against the league leaders, there can be little doubt that the race to sign Hazard is going to be one of the most dramatic of the summer, with a bidding war set to explode after such a delicious performance.